Moscow's booklet on US arms joins superpower propaganda battle

Moscow has put together a slick, full-color book on US military forces - in some ways slicker, diplomats here say, than a similar US publication aimed at convincing Europeans of the need for Western rearmament.

Called ''Whence the Threat to Peace,'' the 78-page, magazine-size booklet is aimed at Western Europe. It is in reply to a book called ''Soviet Military Power ,'' released with great fanfare last year by the US Defense Department.

The Soviet response, published by the Defense Ministry, was previewed Dec. 13 on state television's main evening news show. Formal release of the book, in six languages, is expected soon. An advance copy was obtained by the Monitor.

When the US booklet was released, some West Europeans criticized it as unsophisticated in appearance and presentation. For security reasons, US officials decided not to include satellite photos of new Soviet weaponry. Color drawings were used instead.

The booklet also omitted, for the most part, comparison of Soviet military capability with Western forces. However, NATO quickly began working on a follow-up book to correct the omissions.

''Whence the Threat to Peace'' seems intended to beat NATO to the punch.

Western diplomats here expect the Soviets to distribute copies of the book primarily to politicians, journalists, and other opinionmakers in NATO countries.

Diplomats who have read the booklet say it marks a new level of Soviet sophistication in the superpower propaganda battle on arms-control issues. They argue that although the book falls far short of the ''objectivity'' it claims, it presents a greater appearance of objectivity than its US precursor.

It includes more comparative data than the US booklet. With few exceptions, the Soviet book accepts the US figures on Moscow's military power - arguing only that the Americans' omission of data on US and NATO strength hides an existing ''rough military parity'' between East and West.

Although the graphs and tables in the Soviet booklet are not individually sourced, the introduction implies that most are based on Western sources that are not sympathetic to the Soviet Union. (Western diplomats confirm this, but some say the booklet tends to juggle with figures. For instance, data on US military spending has not been adjusted for inflation, they say.)

The Soviets also make liberal use of quotes from US officials. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is quoted as saying rough East-West parity exists in ''the central strategic nuclear area.''

Also revived is a controversial 1981 statement by President Reagan, in response to a journalist's question about the possibility of preventing the escalation of a nuclear exchange. ''I could see where you could have the exchange of tactical (nuclear) weapons against troops in the field without it bringing either one of the big powers to pushing the button,'' Mr. Reagan is quoted as saying. By ''field,'' the booklet adds, ''he quite definitely meant the European Continent.''

When it comes to slickness, the Soviet publicist had a starting-line edge over the Americans. The Soviet booklet is illustrated with color pictures of US weaponry that are openly available in the West. And expertly presented graphs are sprinkled throughout. One is entitled: ''Concept of Operations of US Strategic Forces on the Basis of Major Military Exercises.'' Threatening tan arrows converge from all sides on the Soviet Union.

Western diplomats here charge that the book's slickness covers the fact the Soviets dodged or misrepresented key issues.

One colorful table shows new weapons introduced by the US since the late 1940 s, allegedly forcing Moscow into an arms race. But this omits coverage of the Soviets' capability to destroy US missile silos, the diplomats charge. ''We had this capability in the early 1970s,'' one US source says. ''But we decided not to act on it.''

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